Saturday 16 June 2012

What the Fuck is an Urban SUV?

The car manufacturers love to wave their green credentials, their electric toys, then demand more money from the governments "to go electric", more concessions, more subsidies. The politicans love to get in the regional papers visiting car factories round the country: Northumberland, Liverpool, Swindon, Oxford, and make hose same promises "the car industry will bring economic recovery to the country", "electric cars are the future".


Buy a newspaper. Look at the adverts. See any selling electric cars? Not likely. What you are likely to see are adverts for "Urban SUVs". Not eco-friendly electric. Not saving the planet. But what the car manufacturers want you to buy.

What the fuck is an urban SUV?

First, there were 4x4s, Landrovers, jeeps. Functional for farmers, the higher end Range Rovers for the landed gentry. Pickups for the builders. Then people started buying them for the image, and the car industry was happy to sell them. They discovered the new market didn't need four weel drive, so calling them 4x4s or 4WDs wasn't right. They invented a new term: SUV. Sport Utility Vehicle.

Then they sold them for sport, for utility. Pictures of snowboarders driving in the snow with snowboards on top. Rock climbers in the wildeness. Pickup drivers "haulin'". Image things. If you do those things, you need an SUV. And if you had an SUV, you lived an active, sporting live. Never mind the fact that snowboarding and rock climbing are lifestyles -and the people who live that lifestyle can't afford SUVs. They live in camper vans in ski resort car parks in winter; campsites in summer. If they do have a job in a town, there'll be a fiesta or astra full of climbing gear. Lifestyle snowboarders, climbers and other "extreme sport" people are just the image for SUVs, not the customer. The customer is someone with money who would rather have a life more interesting than what they have -and the SUV helps pretend that they do.

Nowadays: the SUV is a family vehicle, it's sold on safety for the kids. The marketing dept. loves a few days of snow or summer floods, so the TV can show landrovers coming to the rescue of people who "only" had hatchbacks -they'll buy ad space in the papers to say "this is what you need".

Though the price of buying an SUV - a lot-, the cost of fuel -a lot- and the servicing charges -way more than a hatchback- means that there's a limit to how many "real" SUVs they can sell.

And so we have something new: "The Urban SUV". This is not an SUV for the mountains, it is one for the town.

Think about this: a vehicle with no more luggage capacity than a normal car, worse fuel economy (aerodynamics), worse handling (higher centre of gravity), worse use in town (the width needed to compensate for that SUV means they need to be wider), is now being sold as a vehicle for use in the cities.

That's where the car manufacturers money is really going. Not into electrics, but into overweight, overpriced alternatives to "practical cars".

How do they sell them?

They scare people.

Look at all the adverts. They portray the city as an edgy place ("graffiti"), dark and anonymous, and something that you need an armoured car to get through safely;

  • Toyota Urban Cruiser: Tough. Selling a car driving round a city at night "scary", nobody around "danger", but you are safe in your SUV.
  • Ford Kuga This one is still sold on the outdoor bollocks, but look at the bike shot. Shit bikes, shit suspension, floating rear triangle design. No luggage rack. These are not useful bikes in a city -and they are shit offroad too. Same as the SUV itself.
  • Nissan Quashqai. This is the worst example. "The ultimate urban car", the quashquai is "The king of the urban jungle". Marketing: Graffiti. The rough inner cities that you drive through on your way to the suburbs, doors locked, hoping you don't make eye contact with the locals. Tinted windows help there.

These overpriced vehicles are sold by scaring you that cities are dangerous places where you need tough SUV-like cars. That may help convince people who "still" drive round in hatchbacks, estate cars and the like that they need something tougher for use in a dangerous city.

The danger in a city is not the graffiti. It is not unexpected snowstorms coming in off the cotswolds and covering emerson's green in 18" of power snow. It is not car-jacking criminals loitering at the perennial traffic block by parkway station. What is the danger in the city?

It is selfish wankers driving urban SUVs who think they have more right to the road than people on bicycles and pedestrians. It is those drivers on the school run, bully bicycles out the way, going past them with millimetres to spare, turning back to look at their kids on the handheld games consoles and saying "look how dangerous it is out there -I am glad I am driving you to school". It is people in Urban SUVs who believe they are safe in one, start getting complacent, making phone calls, and run over someone "they came out of nowhere".

Yet nowhere in the adverts do Nissan, Toyota, Ford or anyone else come out and state the truth: the danger to the drivers of urban SUVs are other drivers of Urban SUVs.

For cyclists, Urban SUVs make things worse
  • They ruin visibility for everyone. You can't see over them -and vehicles past them can't see you.
  • they're wider, so are harder to squeeze past
  • the raised seating makes people harder at judging their position, which means they pass you worse, or hold back and then pass you baldly at the wrong point.
  • if you really think your car is "tougher", you drive more aggressively -to bicycles, pedestrians and other cars.
  • in snow and ice the drivers get overconfident as they discover that their "all terrain" vehicle needs winter tyres to stop.
  • they cost more than standard cars -making people think they have even more right to the road than cyclists who don't pay road tax
  • They reinforce that car-as-status-symbol bollocks. If you have an "urban SUV", you are more than just another persion. 

Even without the SUVs on the streets, the whole "you need an urban SUV to survive an edgy city" marketing is an enemy. It's designed to scare people into armouring themselves and then driving through the rough parts of town at speed.

Contrast that with the cycling chic story: cities are nice places for people to cycle round.

You can only have a cycle-chic environment in a city without Urban SUVs. they are our enemy.


  1. Now here's an urban SUV!:

  2. You have missed the main reason why people in this country buy SUVs, which is their growing obesity. My wife and I have a titchy little Citroen C1: but we're both under 11 stone because we cycle most journeys up to five miles. Our neighbours across the road, by contrast (two adults and two adolescent children) are each 20 stone +. How many of them do you think you could shoe-horn into our car?

    I believe that the polite and non-judgemental phrase for their condition is "having unresolved bariatric issues."

  3. Don't forget the true aspiriational role model for these vehicles; drug dealers...